Saturday, April 7, 2012

Not a Matter of Preference

For most of my life I didn't like chocolate. I liked a few candy bars, but anything flavored like chocolate - cake, cookies, ice cream, etc. I didn't like at all. I've met lots of people who said that they didn't like chocolate cake either, and I was never the only one to choose vanilla. But whenever chocolate was the only choice, I was on my own. No matter how many other kids claimed they didn't like chocolate, I was always the only one not touching my slice of chocolate birthday cake, eating just the vanilla layer of the ice cream cake, and picking the chocolate chips out of cookies.  Other kids may have preferred  vanilla to chocolate, but I was the only person who wouldn't take chocolate when it was the only choice offered.

It's perfectly fine to not like something at all or to just say that it's not your first choice. The problem comes in when we assume that someone who says they don't like something would really be okay with it if there were no alternative. I have been in countless awkward situations where someone assumed I would be okay with something slightly different than what I had agreed to. If I offered someone one type of ice cream and then found out I only had another type, I would assume that their answer might change, no matter how similar the flavors were.

Chocolate is minor example, but this sort of thing happens on a larger scale. People just expect you to go along with one plan when you agreed to something entirely different. This example comes up a lot: you planned to hang out with a friend on Saturday, but then a bunch of your other friends invite you to a big party on the same day. You may think the solution is to invite the first friend to the party with your other friends, but that's only a possibility. You can ask your friend if they'd like that plan, but you have to ask, not assume. I've had my plans with certain friends blown off many times in this way, but I end up looking like the one who bailed because I wasn't interested in an alternative plan.

But the worst scenario of all is when a person can't say no. You go on a trip and find out that the plans are very different from what you were told and you don't have the option to go home. You're counting on rooming with one person, who assumes you're okay living in a suite with more people, and now you can't live with them and are worried you won't even get a room.  Everything would be less stressful if we could accept that everything isn't acceptable to everyone. That, "I like vanilla cake," doesn't translate into, "I'll eat any kind of cake." That when someone says they don't like something, it may very well mean that would not do that thing even if there was nothing else to do. Everything isn't just a matter of preference.